Beechcraft Staggerwing/Traveler

The Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing is an American biplane with a typical negative wing stagger (the lower wing is farther forward than the upper wing).

It first flew in 1932.

The Model 17’s unusual negative stagger wing configuration, the upper wing staggered behind the lower) and unique shape maximized pilot visibility and was intended to reduce interference drag between the wings, although it was later found to have negligible effect. 

The fabric-covered fuselage was faired with wood formers and stringers over a welded, steel tube frame.

Construction was complex and took many man-hours to complete.

The Staggerwing’s retractable conventional landing gear, uncommon at that time, combined with careful streamlining, light weight, and a powerful radial engine, helped it perform well.

In the mid-1930s, Beech undertook a major redesign of the aircraft, to create the Model D17 Staggerwing.

The D17 featured a lengthened fuselage that improved the aircraft’s handling characteristics by increasing control leverage, and the ailerons were relocated to the upper wings, eliminating interference with the flaps. 

Braking was improved with a foot-operated brake linked to the rudder pedals.

As World War II loomed, a number of Model B17Ls were pressed into service as bombers by the Spanish Republican Air Force, the air forces of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. 

China ordered a number of Staggerwings to use as air ambulances in its fight against Imperial Japan. 

Finland had one C17L as a liaison aircraft between 1940 and 1945.

On October 2, 1941, Beech shipped a special camouflaged D17S to Prince Bernhard of Lippe, who was in exile in London after the German invasion of the Netherlands.

He used it for refugee work in and around London.

The Beech UC-43 Traveler was a slightly modified version of the Staggerwing.

In late 1938, the United States Army Air Corps purchased three Model D17Ss to evaluate them for use as light liaison aircraft.

These were designated YC-43 (Y designating a development aircraft or non-standard type, C standing for Cargo).

After a short flight test program, the YC-43s went to Europe to serve as liaison aircraft with the air attachés in London, Paris, and Rome.

Early in World War II, the need for a compact executive-type transport or courier aircraft became apparent, and in 1942, the United States Army Air Forces ordered the first of 270 Model 17s for service within the United States and overseas as the UC-43 (USAAF designation for Utility, Cargo).

These differed only in minor details from the commercial model.

To meet urgent wartime needs, the government also purchased or leased (impressed) additional “Staggerwings” from private owners, including 118 more for the Army Air Force plus others for the United States Navy.

In Navy service, the airplanes were designated as GB-1 and GB-2 (under USN designating convention signifying General (purpose), Beech, 1st or 2nd variant of type).

The British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy acquired 106 “Traveller Mk. I” (the British name uses the UK double “l” spelling) through the Lend-Lease arrangement to fill its own critical need for light personnel transports.

The production UC-43 differed in minor details from the service test YC-43.

Two distinguishing external features of the UC-43 are the circular automatic direction finder antennae mounted between the main landing gear and landing lights near the lower wingtips.

They were all powered by the 450 horsepower (336 kilowatt) Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine.

Military Variants

YC-43

Three Model D17S with a 450hp R-985-17 engine for evaluation by the United States Army Air Corps

UC-43 Traveler

Production version with a 450hp R-985-AN-1 engine, these were used by the USAAC (UC-43B) and the USN (GB-1).

UC-43A

Model D17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine.

UC-43B

Model D17S with 450hp R-985-17 engine.

UC-43C

Model F17D with 300hp R-915-1 engine.

UC-43D

Model E17B with 285hp R-830-1 engine.

UC-43E

Model C17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine.

UC-43F

Model D17A with 350hp R-975-3 engine.

UC-43G

Model C17B with 285hp R-830-1 engine.

UC-43H

Model B17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine.

UC-43J

Model C17L with 225hp R-755-1 engine.

UC-43K

Model D17W, one impressed into service.

This aircraft was originally built in 1937 for famed aviator Jacqueline Cochran that held the Women’s National Speed Record of 203.895 miles per hour.

GB-1

USN transport version of the D17.

GB-2

USN version as GB-1 powered with a 450hp R-985-50 or R-985-AN-1 engine, 132 later transferred to USAAF as UC-43s.

Also, additional aircraft from a cancelled British contract and impressed aircraft.

JB-1

One Model C17R as an executive transport for the United States Navy.

Traveller I

British designation for the former US Embassy in London’s YC-43 and 107 UC-43 and GB-2 aircraft delivered mainly for the Royal Navy.

Specifications

Crew

One

Capacity

Three or four passengers plus 125 lb (56.7 kg) baggage

Length

26 ft 10 in (8.18 m)

Wingspan

32 ft (9.8 m)

Height

8 ft (2.4 m)

Wing area

296.5 sq ft (27.55 m2)

Empty weight

2,540 lb (1,152 kg)

Gross weight

4,250 lb (1,928 kg)

Powerplant

1 × Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 “Wasp Junior” radial engine,

450 hp (340 kW) at 2,300 rpm

Performance

Maximum speed

212 mph (341 km/h, 184 kn)

Cruise speed

202 mph (325 km/h, 176 kn)

Range

670 mi (1,078 km, 582 nmi)

Service ceiling

25,000 ft (7,600 m)

Rate of climb

1,500 ft/min (7.6 m/s)

Wing loading

14.3 lb/sq ft (70 kg/m2)

Power/mass

9.44 lb/hp (5.68 kg/kW)

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